Thousands of people gathered on the lawn of the Ohio State House Saturday morning to demonstrate for the importance of public policy that supports science.
Organizers for the Columbus March For Science — who estimated the attendance at around 4,000 people — held an hourlong rally in front of the Statehouse which was followed by a two-block march down High Street to Columbus Commons, where Earth Day events were planned for the afternoon. It was one of more than 600 marches taking place globally to express displeasure with public policies the movement sees as obstructive to scientific progress. The flagship march took place in Washington, D.C.
“Science must be part of a policymaking process at all levels of government,” said Laura Sammons, the rally’s master of ceremonies.
The handful of speakers at the rally included Ohio State faculty members Larry Feth, a professor in the department of speech and hearing science, and Dr. Beth Liston, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics.
Feth spoke of the importance of science and how it touches his work and daily life.
“Science isn’t what you study,” he said. “Science is how you study it.”
Liston described how research has led to life-saving treatments in medicine. Having worked both in research and patient care, she said treatment for a leukemia patient of hers was enabled by cancer research she had worked on several years earlier.
“The basic science research that we had done had led to the development of drugs that had changed her illness from a death sentence into a chronic disease that she could manage,” she said.
The rally’s speakers drew loud and frequent applause, though to the back half of the crowd stretching all the way to the High Street sidewalk, the speeches were inaudible.
David and Janet Orr, Columbus residents for 30 years who work in environmental science and medicine, respectively, said they came to the rally because society has become less accepting of scientific data in the last ten years.
“Politics, power and greed win out over science,” said Janet. “It’s made science take a second seat, which is ridiculous.”
A group of OSU graduate students who study in various scientific fields said they came to the rally because they feel strongly about supporting pro-science policies, but also for more personal reasons.
“When I heard about this I (felt) as a scientist (I) had to do something to support our work and basically our livelihood too,” said Tim Grunkmeyer, who studies biochemistry. “I don’t think the current (presidential) administration understands that it’s not just intellectualism that they’re hurting, they’re hurting jobs too when (they) cut funding of the EPA, the NSF and the NIH.”
President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget, released in February would cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, among other government agencies, if implemented by Congress.
“I think our job as scientists is to be objective and seek the facts and the fact that we are out here today — I think some people think of it as a bias, maybe a more political decision, but I would say they’re intertwined,” said Kendra Lian, an assistant researcher in molecular genetics at OSU. “Science is political. Politics does also involve science. Our funding comes from the government budget.”
The March For Science movement was met with some criticism when the D.C. march was announced in January. Opponents of the march expressed concern that science was becoming politicized.
Lisa Christian, an assistant professor of psychiatry at OSU said she brought her husband Corey, and two children with her because the whole family is concerned about the proposed NIH cuts.
“NIH is what keeps our university running,” she said. “It really is responsible for all the discoveries in medicine.”
Corey Christian said he is also concerned that some Trump administration policies not directly related to agency funding could have harmful effects on technological advancement.
“From an economic perspective, the Trump administration’s approach to visas and to immigration are a real detriment to our technology investment,” he said. “We’re losing great minds from the country in two ways, one being the lack of funding and two being the hostile environment for immigrants.”